Continuing our exploration of the displays on show in Warhammer World today we take a look at the Armies of the Imperium section, starting with the clash between the loyalist Iron Hands and the treacherous Emperor’s Children on Istvaan V.Before Isstvan V the Horus Heresy is a story of commonplace treachery, an ambitious son betraying his father, an internal matter for the Space Marines to thrash out amongst themselves. What follows is a three hour window in which in which hundreds of thousands of Space Marines are slaughtered, three entire legions are broken and an age of darkness and suspicion is born. Of the eleven Primarchs fighting at the start one is dead, two others are missing and there’s no going back for anyone. The brutality and tragedy of the Drop Site Massacre is some of the hardest to read in any Black Library fiction I’ve come across, unrelentingly honest about the hellish reality of war, just violence without glory, the bleeding of the many for the ambition of the few. Set against that this diorama captures just one fight of many and the scale of the tragedy is lost. The scene is pivotal, the diorama intended to capture it less so. That’s not the fault of the model makers, it’s simply the case that this scene is much to big to capture on such a small canvas.Although a solid display the lack of any interesting conversions or stand out miniatures beyond the two Primarchs themselves (I didn’t even spot any Kakophoni although that may have been a failure to look hard enough) meant it didn’t keep my interest for long.Then we have this old(-ish) display showing Space Wolves defending the Fang from the Tyranids has been updated recently to include newer models not available when it was first built.For example these bikers racing the front lines have been joined by a pack of thunder wolf cavalry.A servitor about to meet a messy end.A wounded wolf lord is carried from the field by his battle-brothers and thralls. I love the way this scene, almost a tiny diorama of its own within the larger piece, poses questions of its own. Is it just an illusion created by his injuries or is his hand warping into an animal’s claw? Are his men carrying him from the field, partly hidden by his cloak, to protect him – or to protect themselves?Meanwhile Genestealers swim through the icy waters below, ready to launch another sneak attack on the Wolves.Next along – this is where it all began, the cover art from Rogue Trader reinterpreted in model form. The scene captures the last stand of the Crimson Fists during the fall of the their chapter planet, Rynn’s World.Now this is how an Imperial tank should look – the perfect combination of hubris and impracticality! From it the Commissar looks out over three hundred Cadians marching by.And here we have the Imperial Guardsmen of the Death Corps of Kreig doing what they do best; looking grim whilst standing in a trench. The light dusting of snow only serves to add to the chill of the image – indeed it all looks much colder and harsher than the snowy landscape around the Fang (above). Even the lack of action implies a forbidding inevitability to the scene; these men have hacked their trenches from the frozen ground, now they stand ready to face the death they know is coming.Once again I hope you’re enjoying this look through the dioramas on display at Warhammer World. Tomorrow we take a look at the Imperium’s adversaries, the aliens!
Category Archives: Horus Heresy
So here we are, a year on from the Betrayal at Calth and the landscapes of both 40k and the Horus Heresy are both constantly evolving and ever more entwined. Following the discovery of Daemonic Primarch Magnus the Red hiding in the recycling bins at GW HQ it’s time to return to the civil war that started it all. Even before Horus played his hand at Isstvan he was sowing discord and through his machinations, the hot-headedness of his brothers and what could easily be regarded as wilful idiocy on the part of the Emperor, it all came down to blood in the cities of Prospero. Without the traitors even needing to deploy two loyal Legions would come close to mutual destruction.
Given the huge success of the Horus Heresy in general, and Betrayal at Calth in particular, there can’t be many who’re surprised to see GW returning to the cash cow for another bucket of milk. What’s striking however is that this time round they’re being a lot more adventurous – in keeping with the surge of creative energy we’ve been seeing over recent months. Alongside the space marines and terminators that GW packs into every boxset they release we have, for the first time ever, the Emperor’s loyal bodyguards – the Custodes – and the bane of witches everywhere, those psychic nulls the Sisters of Silence.
With Calth they played it safe as befits its status as the gateway drug to the setting. Cataphractii terminators and Contemptor dreadnaughts were already popular thanks to Forge World, there were two characters which could easily fit into any Legion or Chapter from either 40k or the Heresy, and a whole bunch of that ever popular money-spinning workhorse, the space marines. It would have been easy for them to repeat the trick with Prospero but instead they’ve opted for bigger risks – with arguably more to play for. This time the characters are far more Legion specific, and whilst we were encouraged to paint the Calth characters to fit our Legion of choice it would take more than a coat of paint to make Geigor Fell-Handed into an Ultramarine or Ahriman into an Iron Warrior. Likewise those who’ve thrown in their lot with Horus won’t find much use in the Custodes or the Sisters of Silence, representing as they do perhaps the only two facets of Imperial society that wasn’t split in two by the Heresy.
Before we dig into the models themselves allow me – in my notorious hubris – to quote my comments from this time last year when Betrayal at Calth was freshly released:
“…for anyone thinking ‘what about Prospero?’ – well those two Legions (Space Wolves and Thousand Sons) would require very distinct miniatures and rules, rather unsuitable for a mass-appeal starter set. They’d also take away some of the thunder from Forge World exploration of that iconic campaign – although one wonders if GW might be planning some kind of follow-up or expansion set to coincide? At this stage one can only guess.”
Well I wasn’t entirely right, we’re still waiting for Forge World to tackle Prospero and when I imagined unique miniatures I was picturing something more akin to Ahriman and Geigor than the Custodes. Still, there’s no denying Prospero makes a natural choice for the follow up to Calth. Its early in the Heresy (in fact it’s arguable that this is where the first shots were fired) so there’s no danger of getting ahead of the popular Black Library series. Only two legions were present (unlike the zoo at Istvaan where pretty much everybody turned up) and it was an infantry fight (as opposed to the tank battle at Talarn or the space battle at Phall). Mind you – not that I’m attempting to repeat my Nostradamus-like prediction trick – the boarding action on Perturabo’s flagship the Iron Blood by the Imperial Fists at Phall could make for an interesting game in this vein, somewhat akin to a Heresy-era Space Hulk. Or maybe they’ll decide to do something completely out of the blue and base the next boxset around the Fall of Mars with loyalist Mechanicum guerrillas battling their scrapcode warped brethren for control of the red planet. We shall see…
The Space Marines
Calth gave us space marines in Mk IV power armour, providing fans with a lot of extra variety when it comes to building their own Legion or Chapter. Now it’s the turn of the Mk III, also known as Iron Armour, to get in on the action. Now some people might be throwing up their hands and saying “Not another kit for making tactical marines?!” and fair enough there isn’t exactly a shortage of them. I can argue until I’m blue in the face about the qualities of Iron Armour, the joy of extra variety, the enriched background and appearance of GW’s posterboys, but frankly if you don’t love Space Marines with an unhealthy passion it may be hard to regard this as filling a gap in the market. Of course the standard issue Space Marine flaws are still in evidence – the weird, splay-legged half-squatting stance remains and they haven’t decided to true-scale them overnight either. Still if you love Iron Armour, and I do, then this is one to get excited about.
I’ll admit I’m not quite at the stage of being an expert on Space Marine armour marks but there’s no denying the Mk III has a brutal, slab-faced and slightly archaic appeal that’ll work nicely for anyone wanting to model their marines ready for a Zone Mortalis or kitbash their own breachers. By my count this gives the discerning space marine general go-to boxsets for Mk III, MkIV, Mk VI (debatably the tactical marines kit) and MkVII and Mk VIII (if you count the Death Watch kit). With this in mind I’m going to take a wild stab and suggest that this time next year we might well be looking at a box full of Mk V, the wonderfully studded and weird-looking Heresy armour. Mind you I wouldn’t be averse to seeing a Unification Wars game with Mk I clad Thunder Warriors slugging it out against tech-barbarian tribesmen.
Although not as immediately iconic as last year’s Cataphractii the Tartaros are still great looking models. As models they’re visually distinct from both the Cataphractii and the standard terminators in 40k and thus, if nothing else, they provide a little additional diversity to the terminator options available. After all, with Space Marines remaining the most popular army ever, a little more visual variety has merit of its own. By sharing design cues with both the Contemptor and the MkIV tactical marines the addition of the Tartaros also allows players to create an army with a strong visual theme running through it – perfect if you want your marines to stand out from the crowd.
In comparison to the Cataphractii which were armed almost exclusively for ranged combat the kit contains enough close combat weapons – in the form of lightning claws – to kit out the whole squad, perfect if your legion of choice is one of those like the Space Wolves or World Eaters who enjoys getting up close and personal with the enemy.
Sisters of Silence
Now this is where things get really interesting. For most of us a new armour mark for the space marines is only so exciting, but the appearance – for the first time ever – of models for the Sisters of Silence (and the Custodes for that matter) is big news in anyone’s book. Although the models themselves have come in for a degree of – perhaps justified – criticism (why oh why inflict models with armour which could so easily prove fatal to the wearer?) after consideration I’m coming down on the side of those who love them. After all so much in 40k is impractical and as dangerous to the user as it is to their enemies that it hardly seems fair to make a fuss about this. I’m also inclined to put the blame on the studio paint scheme. Had the armour been painted as leather the question would probably never have arisen. Leather armour would also make more sense given how close to the skin its being worn – and whilst I’m sticking my neck out and criticising the ‘eavy metal painters her outstretched hand is clearly bare and not made of a solid lump of gold like some futuristic female version of Jamie Lanister.
Leather would also suit a light, fast-moving warrior like the Sisters. Leave the bulky metal and ceramite to the Custodes and Astartes – these girls want to be quick and lithe and, as shown in this painting by David Hudnut, leather and cloth is the answer to that. Strange, ornate and archaic these are everything the elite troops of the Imperium should be, and the release of these models represents another voice tempting me away from Chaos and into the arms of the Imperium. Of course, if I did decide to tackle such an army the Sisters wouldn’t be the only models from this set to have a place in the ranks.
Step aside Grey Knights, here we have the real Imperial elite. When Abaddon’s Khorne worshipping frontrunners come bursting through the final gate and onto the steps of the Golden Throne to claim the Emperor’s skull these are the men who’ll be waiting for them.
Of all the models in the Burning of Prospero box these are the ones I’ve stared at longest since GW started releasing their pictures. For a while I doubted them but time has soften me. There are flaws of course, the huge shoulder pads mean that from some angles they look a little squat, and the swords in particular are a little too big (although what kind of filthy heretic arms Custodes with swords when there are Guardian Spears to go around?). The way the shoulder pad of this model sits proud of the body also concerns me…
… but on the other hand take a look at this shield!
… or how about the way the powerpack is incorporated into the back of the model.
Overall then it’s fair to say that these models have grown on me to become my favourite thing in the box – a tough choice given that I’m a huge fan of Iron Armour and Sisters of Silence alike.
GW have also released rules to allow players to field Custodes and Sisters of Silence in 40k, an interesting development as neither is an active military force in the modern Imperium. In a statement on their facebook page GW took note of this but stressed that both factions still exist, adding “… who knows, we might just see more of them in future”. Whether this is a cheeky nod to planned developments or simply an attempt to keep their options open only time will tell but with Daemonic Primarchs entering the fray the time may be approaching for the Imperium to call all of its agents to arms. Who knows, perhaps someday we may even see Sagittarus Custodian Dreadnaughts such as the one shown in this picture by Adrian Smith. Edit: And indeed Forge World have been fast off the mark – already revealing this Custodes transport.
On a final note it’s interesting that, although he’s not a character in the game, the shield-captain of the Custodes squad bears a striking resemblance to Constantin Valdor, the Captain General of the Custodes who took personal command of those amongst his troops who were sent to Prospero (painting by Adrian Smith again – please excuse the tiny picture of the model, I’ll replace it as soon as GW releases something better).
Calth was both criticised and praised for its generic characters and, perhaps as a result, GW have taken the opposite approach here. Azhek Ahriman is one of the most important characters in the Heresy and continues to plague the Imperium ten thousand years later. Forge World have already produced models for a number of the Heresy’s most influential figures but Ahriman has the distinction of being the first to appear in plastic and what a model he is.
For the designers the challenge must have been significant. Not only is this character well known and loved, but also one who’s appearance must reflect clearly the fact that he is a loyalist – whilst remaining clearly the same character as his 40k incarnation.
At first one might question if they’ve even succeeded – after all would someone unfamiliar with the background know that this was the same man who stood on the surface of Prospero all those centuries ago? Still the clues are there, albeit subtle, in the two strips of cloth hanging over his chest, the gently curving horns behind his head and, most of all, the third-eye in the middle of his forehead.
Of all the models here this is the one I’m mostly likely to buy in the near future. I’ve already got my eye on using him to create a custom sorcerer lord for my Chaos collection and of course plenty of people will be converting him into a 40k version of himself (the current Ahriman model being both iconic and rather old and clunky). The adventurous might even make a Librarian out of him (as if the Space Marines don’t have enough of those) something I’m sure Magnus the Red will find quietly amusing as he waits in the Warp for his moment to return.
If anyone was feeling the lack of another wolf lord for their space wolves then here we have the man for you. With his ornate power-armour, trophies and fetishes he’s a striking figure – enough to have any fan of the Rout excited. Indeed, in my opinion he’s up there with Krom Dragongaze as among the very best of the recent Space Wolves models. With a model just restrained enough to avoid looking silly (and no more) he’s ironically wolfy and will no doubt find a home in collections of Fenrisian warriors from both 40k and the Heresy. As mentioned above however he won’t be an easy one to convert so if you don’t want a Space Wolf in your collection you’d better find someone who does to flog him off to. Even if you do want a force of Wolves to take the fight to the Thousand Sons there’s nothing distinctly Wolf-like about the rest of this boxset so he’ll always look a bit out of place unless you dig out a few spare trophies, wolf-skulls and totems from the bits box to decorate his followers.
In comparison to Ahriman Geigor is something of an every-wolf, with so little in the way of preceding background that many people assume his chances of surviving Prospero in any accompanying fiction are slightly lower than those of a red-shirted man living through a mission in Star Trek. A popular rumour doing the rounds online is that this was originally intended to be Bjorn (later to be the Fell Handed) who’s better known to 40k fans as the oldest Dreadnaught of them all. Of course this would be a wonderful piece of storytelling, revealing this iconic character prior to his incarceration in an ambulatory metal box. The only downside is that, at the time of the battle of Prospero, Bjorn was the Quite-Normal-Handed, a rank-and-file space marine with very little to mark him out as the hero he would become. Supposition has it that the developers realised this rather late in the game, hence the last minute renaming of the character as Geigor Fell-Handed instead. As yet this remains purely a hypothesis but one has to wonder in either case, why name him Fell-Handed at all? After all it’s a title so closely associated with such a famous character in the story of both 40k and the Heresy – a character who was even present for the battle featured – that reusing it was bound to cause confusion. Perhaps there’s a clever explanation waiting to be revealed but for now, his name at least remains something of an enigma.
Honourable mention with this release goes to Russ himself, the Lord of Winter and War, unleashed alongside the Burning of Prospero in a clever bit of cross department co-ordination between GW and Forgeworld. With Black Library getting in on the act with The Great Wolf this is a great weekend to be a Space Wolves fan. To me however Russ leaves something to be desired. His lunging pose is slightly awkward, as though he’s about to fall forward, the back leg kicking up too high in a way that’s reminiscent of the running Khorne Berserkers (a kit that should have been replaced long ago, not replicated). Compare him to the other running Primarch – Angron – and you’ll see the benefit to being slightly more restrained with the placing of the legs. Likewise his sword – admittedly an iconic design – is a little too over-the-top, early 90’s for my taste. What’s the use in all those spikes and blades apart from to snag on everything he hits? Thus in contrast to the Primarchs already released which, with the exception of Corax, have been universally outstanding, Russ is a bit of a miss for me. Hopefully others disagree however as the Wolf King has been one of the most anticipated models in the Horus Heresy series and it would be a shame if fans of the Rout are as disappointed in him as I am.
Magnus the Red
Now if we’re going to talk about Russ then what better time to mention his rival Magnus? Recent revelations emerging from the recycling bins at Games Workshop HQ (alongside the good news that they’re so environmentally conscious) reveals that the Primarch of the Thousand Sons is soon to be released – not for the Horus Heresy when he walked the galaxy as a man of flesh and blood, but for his return in daemonic form in the twilight days of the Imperium.
It’s certainly a dramatic development and many are insisting that this means the return of many other primarchs is now imminent. Certainly the background has it that the daemonic Primarchs have been preparing for a return to the mortal universe for some time, and some – such as Angron and Magnus – having involved themselves violently in mortal affairs since the Heresy. For me the thought of being able to include them in my armies as we surge out of the Great Eye at last and bring ruin to the Corpse-God’s Imperium is hugely exciting. However, perhaps hypocritically, I’m not all that keen on seeing the loyalist Primarchs appearing in 40k. Of course it’s exciting to imagine that they might be out there somewhere but, much like bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster, that doesn’t mean I actually want them in my house. The loyalist Primarchs represent hope. Perhaps the day may come when the Lion awakes or Guilliman heals and, in the Imperium’s darkest hour, they ride out in Arthurian fashion. Until then men must suffice.
Perhaps this represents the views of a luddite clinging to the past, refusing to allow the setting to evolve beyond the moment in which I discovered it, forcing it – with unintentional irony – to stagnate into a worship of its past self. Perhaps it is simply that I am being left behind by the evolution GW envisions for its most popular creation. After all Warhammer has already made the transition from a world in which the aesthetic of the pathetic ruled, where a man with no shoes and fewer teeth took up a rusty sword to battle daemon princes and orc hordes, into a glittering universe of superhuman heroics, where gods do battle and the great unwashed are strangely absent.
The return of the loyalist Primarchs would send 40k in the same direction. The fate of the Imperium would hang less on the actions of a band of guardsmen defending a trench against the horrors of a hostile galaxy and more about two demi-gods duelling over their father’s throne. Abaddon has launched thirteen crusades to wrest the galaxy from gene-gods and back into the hands of men and I’ve been with him every step of the way. Leave the Primarchs where they belong; in a lost mythic age. Let the Lion keep napping, leave Guilliman in state like a power-armoured Lenin – the only loyal Primarch that belongs in the modern 40k universe is Sanguinius’s golden-armoured ghost.
So what do you think? Is this a worthy successor to Calth or will you be making your own Custodes out of Stormcasts instead? Do you think the model of Leman Russ is magnificent or are you too excited to concentrate by the thought of seeing Guilliman in 40k? As usual the comments box is open for your thoughts so have at it.
Edit: If you just can’t get enough of reading about this new boxset I highly recommend KrautScientist’s in-depth look at the models (and of course their conversion potential).
This weekend sees the release of a new boxed game from Games Workshop. Cast in the same mould as Betrayal at Calth this one will focus on the razing of the planet Prospero, home to the Thousand Sons legion of Magnus the Red, by his brother the Wolf King Leman Russ.
So how did we get here? How did two legions of space marines, each claiming to be utterly loyal to the Emperor of Mankind, end up beating seven bells out of each other to such an extent that an entire planet was burned down? Well, gentle reader, let me explain – although it is a confusing tale and one which leads inevitably to the conclusion that the Emperor is either a) evil and using humanity as pawns in a fiendishly complex scheme of his own that is yet to become clear or b) so unbelievably stupid that you wouldn’t let him run a bath let alone an interstellar empire. For those of you who’ve not read A Thousand Sons or Prospero Burns yet this post is full of spoilers, better to come back later once you’ve read them yourself.
So the Emperor, so utterly arrogant that he couldn’t imagine being called anything else, decides that he’s spent long enough watching humanity scrabble in the radioactive dirt of the planet formerly known as Earth and he’s going to relocate every lost colony in the galaxy and create himself an Empire to be Emperor of (possibly because he was starting to feel a little self-conscious being called The Emperor when he was all by himself). In order to share the leg work of the galaxy re-uniting business he created himself a number of sons, not in the fairly exciting way that would have involved finding an Empress and possibly loosening up a little, but in a fairly dull way that involved being in a science lab instead. Each of these sons was particularly good at certain things, for example Dorn was good at building forts, Perturabo was good at knocking them over again, Fulgrim was good at picking clothes and Vulcan was good at living for a very, very long time whilst being terribly nice to everyone.
Magnus was designed to be good at magic. The key word in there is designed, remember that because it becomes important later, the Emperor specifically created Magnus with it in mind that he would be a dab hand at spells and so on. In fact it was generally reckoned that Magnus was the best wizard that had ever been, with the possible exception of the Emperor who was also very good at magic (alongside science and having big ideas). Another of the Emperor’s sons, Leman Russ, specialised in a combination of being loyal to the Emperor and killing people, which made him excellent as an enforcer in the event that any of his brothers got a bit out of line. He was also good with pets and really disliked magic.
Anyway, the Great Crusade rolled along quite nicely, most of the humans in the galaxy were reunited into one sharing, caring happy family, or – if they didn’t want to be part of the Project for a New Imperial Century, obliterated to radioactive rubble instead. With everything proceeding nicely the Emperor headed home to work on a new Top Secret project, leaving his favourite son Horus in charge. Before he vanished into his lab and stopped answering his calls altogether however there was one last order of business to take care of; the Council of Nikaea. For some time the Imperium had been split on the question of magic and whether or not it was a good idea. Some, like Magnus, pointed to the enormous potential to do good offered by their powers, and noted that as mankind appeared to be evolving into a race of powerful magic users it might be worth getting out ahead of the game and being prepared for a magic dominated future when it arrived. Generally these people had magical powers themselves. The other side thought that magic was bad news, wizards were dangerous people, and the whole thing should be stopped at once. Generally these people didn’t have magical powers themselves and were probably a bit jealous of those who did. Some of them however, like Russ, had plenty of strange powers of their own, and liked hanging out with wizards themselves, but did a lot of hand-waving to justify it and not come off as massive hypocrites.
The Council of Nikaea was supposed to thrash this out once and for all, but instead it all turned into a bit of a show trial where Magnus was accused of being a very naughty boy and banned from doing any more magic at all. Interestingly, and as an aside, this judgement was regarded as a bad move by several of the Emperor’s sons who went on to side with him in the forthcoming civil war (Roboute Guilliman and the Khan for example), whilst others who agreed with him on this still managed to stab him in the back a short time later (Mortarion I’m looking at you). It also provided Lorgar, Primarch of the Word Bearers, with an excuse to infiltrate many of his brother’s legions under the guise of helping them come to terms with a life without magic. Quite why more of his brothers didn’t tell him where to shove his ‘help’ is unclear but it certainly gave Lorgar the excuse to go around knocking on doors asking if anyone had a few minutes to talk about our lord and saviour the Primordial Annihilator.
Anyway Magnus was rather good at wizarding and didn’t want to go back to living in the cupboard under the stairs. He was sure that if he could just show his dad how useful magic could be then the Emperor would recognise his error and take back his judgement (forgetting for a moment that the Emperor was well aware of what magic could do, being as he was spectacularly good at it himself). What was needed, Magnus realised, was a huge, over the top gesture, proving once and for all that magic was useful and, perhaps even more importantly, that Magnus was a good boy who deserved a second chance. Then they would cry and hug and probably do some quality father/son bonding – perhaps involving a fishing trip or attending some kind of sporting event.
Meanwhile Horus was starting to get bit cheesed off. He was finding out that being Warmaster was a lot harder than the Emperor had made it sound before he gave him the job and between his brothers squabbling and generally being dysfunctional, and trying to co-ordinate a war on an almost infinite number of fronts, he could also use a bit of a chat with the Emperor for a bit of fatherly advice. Unfortunately whenever he rang the Emperor he got his voicemail in the form of Malcador the Sigilite who told him that the Emperor was super busy dealing with something far more important than re-uniting humanity and Horus would just have to use his initiative. Regrettably Horus’s initiative was telling him to listen to Lorgar who was full of talk about evil gods in the Warp and how we should listen to them instead and how the Emperor had never loved them anyway (this being a rough summation of the path from loyal son to traitor that actually takes three whole books to play out). The Emperor, as it turns out, was well aware that these warp gods existed, and that they planned to corrupt mankind, but at no point did it occur to him to mention this to his sons. Instead, in a display of exceptional parenting, he waited until Horus was leading half the Imperium against him in civil war before declaring something to the effect of “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal”.
Anyway Magnus found out about what was happening and, having failed to convince Horus that he might be making a mistake in going against the Emperor’s will, decided to go against the Emperor’s will by using magic to project himself across the galaxy to warn his dad. Remember when you were a kid and you saw someone breaking the rules and ran to the teacher to tell, only to get in trouble yourself for being a tell-tale? Well that’s what happened to Magnus. Also when he projected himself into the Emperor’s lab he brushed aside all the wards which the Emperor had put there precisely to stop anyone using magic to project themselves into his lab, which caused a major infestation of daemons which to this day threatens to burst through and devour everyone. This ticked the Emperor off no end and he focussed his anger on Magnus and sent Russ to put him back in line. At this point the plot becomes a bit confused – some versions have it that Horus told Russ that Magnus was planning to trap him and to go in all guns blazing, or that the Emperor told Russ to kill Magnus, or that Russ was caging for a fight anyway and decided to have his revenge on Magnus for all the times he’d shouted ‘walkies’ at him or confused him by pretending to throw a ball whilst actually hiding it behind his back. The plot of the novel covering these events does nothing to clarify things and instead adds in an unnecessary shape-shifting daemon which only serves to muddy the waters and poke holes in the plot (bad boy Dan Abnett – and you’re usually so good).
Thus Russ and his Space Wolves arrive at the planet of Prospero and set about breaking everything in sight, a terrible battle ensues and Magnus teleports his legions off the planet and into the arms of an elaborate Tzeentchian scheme. And if you thought that was hard to follow you should read the bloody books!
Looking over the events that shaped the Horus Heresy it’s hard to buy into the Imperial version of events, that the Emperor had a plan for humanity which would have kept us safe and secure into a glorious future but was blindsided by Horus’s short-sighted betrayal. Indeed it’s pretty obvious that some of the Primarchs were designed to fail. From the moment of their creation they were set on paths that led them to Chaos and the Emperor seemed to be deliberately shaping events to encourage them on that journey. Magnus, Angron, Curze, Lorgar, even Horus himself; all seem to have been the victims of a deliberate set-up. I’ve even wondered if the Emperor only despatched the Wolves to Prospero because Magnus was so stubborn in remaining loyal when any right thinking individual would have told him to get stuffed long before. (Note also that whilst both Curze and Angron had their knuckles rapped at various points the only other legion to be shamed and reprimanded in quite such a grand fashion were the Word Bearers, again for too much loyalty rather than not enough).
One possibility is that some of the Primarchs were intended as deliberate sacrifices. After all the Emperor is known to have made a pact with the Chaos gods in exchange for the knowledge required to make the Primarchs in the first place. What we don’t know is what the Gods asked for in return. Perhaps the Gods said to the Emperor ‘Kill me a son’ (and the Emperor says “Man, you must be putting me on!”)
Ultimately much remains unknown about the Emperor and his motivations but what we do know is that he foresaw the Heresy, if not its full extent, and his actions did more to cause it than to prevent it. Here we have a man – supremely skilled with magic – who, through elaborate schemes and misdirection, created the modern Imperium upon which the Gods of Chaos have feasted for ten thousand years. Ultimately Horus may have fallen at the Siege of Terra but it was the Gods who were victorious. The Imperium, with its teeming millions and constant warring and plotting, has been the perfect vessel for their schemes for ten millennia. Tzeentch loves those who struggle against their fate, all the while binding themselves tighter and tighter within his schemes, and the Imperium of Man has struggled so very hard indeed. The engines of the state are devoted to covering up the existence of Chaos and stopping an outbreak of pyskers, all the while preventing mankind from achieving its psychic potential. All the races which might prove a threat to the dominance of Chaos (the Orks, Tyranids, Necrons, Tau, even the Eldar) find themselves under the Imperium’s guns. And if you still don’t believe me that the Emperor is either serving Tzeentch, or actually is Tzeentch himself, take a look at that double-headed eagle banner and tell me you’ve not seen it somewhere before…
I rest my case.
‘My devotion is my strength.’ Lorgar clenched his perfect teeth. ‘You have no heart, and no soul.’ A snort blackened his angelic features with a disgusted twist. ‘I pray that one day, you feel as I feel. Would you smile if one of Ultramar’s worlds died in fire? Tarentus? Espandor? Calth?’
– The Primarch Lorgar to his brother Roboute Guilliman in the ruins of Monarchia.
From The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden.
Well here we are at last, official memorabilia from Lorgar and Angron’s show-stopping tour of Ultramar. For those of you who’ve been cast adrift in your incubation pods by the machinations of the Chaos Gods and have only just been rediscovered by civilisation, today sees the release of Betrayal at Calth, the first plastic boxset for Warhammer 30k (in 28mm scale)*. For us fans of the Heresy this is quite a big moment, the latest step in an evolution that has taken the story of Horus and the founding of the Imperium from myth and legend into a fully fleshed out universe in its own right. For those loyal to Chaos this is where that ten thousand year old grudge really began. Oh and Space Marine fans get more plastic marines to play with – but you were never short of those were you 😉
*Caveats abound as fans of the tiny titans from Adeptus Titanicus emerge from the woodwork to demand that they are not forgotten by history. Somewhat pedantically…
A Place In The Background
There’s really only one place to start the Heresy. Before Isstvan, or Davin, or even Ullanor; Monarchia. In the ruins of that world the Great Crusade went sour.
However although Monarchia makes for a great scene in a novel it hardly works as a gripping battle on the tabletop. Both players set up their armies. Place the model for the Emperor in the middle. Knock down all the Word Bearers miniatures. Both players pack up and go home. Word Bearer’s player bears a grudge for the next fifty years and plots genocidal retribution against the Ultramarines player.
It wasn’t until Calth that this grudge-match finally got the chance to be realised. Thus Calth makes a natural start-point to GW’s latest exploration of the Heresy. It also featured just two legions, unlike Isstvan III (four legions) or Isstvan V (eleven) which makes it much more user friendly as an introduction to the game. And for anyone thinking ‘what about Prospero?’ – well those two Legions (Space Wolves and Thousand Sons) would require very distinct miniatures and rules, rather unsuitable for a mass-appeal starter set. They’d also take away some of the thunder from Forge World exploration of that iconic campaign – although one wonders if GW might be planning some kind of follow-up or expansion set to coincide? At this stage one can only guess.
Many people have wishlisted about seeing a match-up between one of the other long-standing legion grudges from the Heresy era – Iron Warriors vs Imperial Fists is a popular choice, although I would have preferred Night Lords vs Dark Angels (or, ending with a twist, Dark Angels vs Dark Angels). However all these legions have, to a greater or lesser extent, unique characteristics that make them visually distinct and this would run counter to the design philosophy of this boxset. The message from GW is clear; if you want Imperial Fists vs Iron Warriors then paint them yellow and silver – and many people will. If you want more than that Forgeworld have come to the rescue with their Legion Upgrade kits which allows you to turn these models into the legion of your choice – although unless you’re a real nerd about getting the armour mark right on your Space Marine’s knees you could do this already.
I suppose my first question, when it comes to this latest development, is not why they’ve done it but why it’s taken them so long to get round to it? Surely they’ve known this was a goldmine for a very long time. Some would say that until now the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings have been taking up valuable space in stores but frankly those ranges have seen such minimal investment over the last few years that this hardly seems convincing, especially for a company as large and businesslike as GW. Others would suggest that this is intended to support their finances if Age of Sigmar proves to be a less than resounding success – and certainly there may be something to this. If AoS succeeds all well and good, if it flops then at least there is the Horus Heresy to fall back on. It’s rather unfair that so many conversations about the Betrayal at Calth are currently being derailed by rAge Against the Sigmarines, but understandably the death of Warhammer has been the defining moment for the hobby this year and there are naturally going to be comparisons.
In contrast to AoS Betrayal at Calth seems a far more conservative move. Rather than burn the world down and start afresh Calth builds on an already popular series (ironically because burning the world down was exactly what the Word Bearers were planning…). Instead of offering new races to play it simply expands the range for one that’s already popular. The boardgame is also a clever addition. Rather than asking new players to paint up hundred of models before they can take their legion to war they start off with a few squads and a game to play with them. If they enjoy it they can add more units and expand up to larger battles. Again one has to wonder why they didn’t do something similar set in the Old World, a skirmish scale game set in the ruins of an Empire city as a last few heroes struggled to stall the End Times and stop the final victory of Chaos. They could have called it Mordheim or something…
I could speculate about this a little more but frankly AoS is taking over enough other topics of conversation at the moment and to look at it properly demands a blog (or perhaps a book) in its own right – moving on!
Of course many people will be enjoying their first chance to look at the new rules, but even GW admits that they are mostly a bonus. The real meat here is the models themselves.
I’ll admit I’m not at all a fan of the Contemptors, much preferring a standard dreadnaught (even if it does look like a fridge on legs). This new one, sadly, does nothing to change my mind, but if you like Contemptors (and as far as I can tell most of you do) then this should be good news round your house. In fact as the model seems to be extremely popular making it more widely available seems like a no-brainer and I expect to see one in every household by the end of the year.
Being plastic it should be easier to convert that the Forge World variants so I might decide to pick one up at some stage, either to convert into a Chaos Contemptor (I like them better for some reason) or, if I’m feeling brave and want to break out the greenstuff, a Mhara Gal.
Of course, you can’t have the Word Bearers without their chaplains, bringing the truth of the Primordial Annihilator to the impure servants of the False Emperor.
Personally I would have preferred something more like Zardu Layak, which frankly would have been a ‘must buy’ for me. However once again the model they did release seems like a savvy choice, being usable as a chaplain or captain for any legion, or for any loyalist chapter in 40k, with the exception of the Wolves. This, however, is why I start to find fault with the release because one of the few places this guy isn’t a neat fit is amongst the Word Bearers themselves. By Calth they were revelling in their new faith, throwing off the secrecy that they had girded themselves with for so long, and now looked more like this.
I can see why they chose the route they did because this is a damn fine model with an amazing future ahead of it, both in its own right and as the basis of all kinds of conversions. However he still looks like a loyalist to me and with my focus very much on the forces of Chaos at the moment I’m struggling to see how I could fit it into my collection without destroying many of the elements that make it so striking.
More exciting by far, for me, are the Cataphractii. I wanted to see models for these since long before Forge World released their versions and if I ever get round to working on my loyalists again these will be essential purchases. I can also imagine Black Legion fans snapping these up. A few restrained conversions (snarling helms, daemonic weapons) could easily turn these in Falkus Kibre and the surviving Justaerin.
For anyone else firmly rooted in the 41st Millennium these could still make a stylish addition to any Chapter’s First Company. As for the Chaos Legions, most have changed sufficiently that these no longer work for them but there are a few possibilities – Emperor’s Children still love an ostentatious suit, Thousand Sons haven’t changed much (bless them, they can’t really anymore can they?) and of course there’s still the Word Bearers themselves.
Just as the Word Bearers have their Dark Apostle so the Ultramarines have a suitably square-jawed and heroic looking Captain to lead them. For Space Marines players this chap looks to be another cracking addition to the range. At last here is a model for a generic Chapter Master, meeting the new Games Workshop policy of ‘no model, no codex entry’. Unfortunately, I’m led to believe that this same policy has seen Chapter Masters reduced from a unit in their own right to an upgrade for Captains. Nonetheless if you’re just starting out and want the big man himself to lead your army (and why not – start with a hero you can believe in!) but don’t want to tackle converting your models just yet, this is the miniature for you.
One other thing that struck me, and this is rather late in the game to be mentioning to Games Workshop, but doesn’t he look better in Word Bearer’s colours? I can really see him as the bullish captain of a Word Bearers chapter – not yet as tainted as his Chaplains but vicious in his determination to prove himself in the new creed. Likewise the Chaplain looks much better painted as an Ultramarine. Head over to the Games Workshop site and see if you agree with me.
As for the marines – well they’re basically just marines. Unless this is your first day in the hobby (in which case stick with me kid, I’ll see you right) you’ve already made up your mind about them. If you like supersoldiers in power-armour these are your lads. If you’d prefer space elves or green dudes with rusty hatchets then this isn’t for you. Oh and if you’re looking for black-powder guns, handlebar moustaches, floppy hats and cannons then not only have you found the wrong Empire but I’ve got very bad news so you’d better sit down and prepare yourself for a shock.
For connoisseurs of power-armour (read nerds) it’s rather nice to get a better range of marks available for modelling and converting (I rather like those heavy studded grieves and the snouts of the helms) but it’s hardly a deal breaker for me. Some of you though will undoubtedly be wetting yourselves.
Getting more access to heresy era weaponry is more exciting – especially for those of us who’s predilections lie towards the evil and chaotic. Our thin-blooded inheritors in the Imperium may have chosen to upgrade to newer models of rocket-launchers but we who fought and fell alongside our Primarchs prefer something a little more old fashioned. Iron Warriors fans must be salivating.
Again though the generic nature of these models is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand you can paint them as any legion, but on the other hand there’s nothing at all to distinguish them beyond the colour they’re painted. Part of what makes the Heresy so compelling is the different character that the Legions have developed – and that character is much deeper a more complex than simply ‘this one is red, this one is blue’. I’m not suggesting that everyone in the Word Bearers was running around looking like the Gal Vorbak but at the moment there’s nothing to distinguish them from Blood Angels, or Alpha Legionaries pretending to be Blood Angels. Of course Forge World are here to help you, but it’ll cost more. Then again you’re already making a saving compared to buying from Forge World. Thus I’m hesitant to say this release is that great if you’ve already established your legion – but if you’re thinking of dipping your toe into the Heresy then now is the time to do it. Start off with a few models, play the board game, add a few more and slowly upgrade. Who knows – stick with it and someday you could have an army as impressive as this one?
Now for the real question; if I were to pick this up – and I won’t because I’m far too busy preparing my Black Crusade for the Second Siege of Terra to worry about a failed revolt ten millennia ago – but if I was – Iron Warriors or Night Lords?
All images copyright Games Workshop. Obviously.
Around the same time that I created this blog I decided, after years of scepticism, to try reading the Black Library’s Horus Heresy series. I’d tried dipping in to the Black Library’s cannon before but had been put off by a few crudely written pieces, all of which ran along the lines of “the heroic Space Marine ducked low and spun right, scything down another thousand enemies with a single sweep of his manly chin”. Anyway, I decided to put my bias behind me and read The First Heretic, mainly because the cover looked awesome. To my pleasant surprise the contents were even better. Thus hooked I started to work my way through the rest. I’ll try to review them here without including spoilers but, as everyone’s definition of what that entails varies, you may wish to skip to the end where I’ve included a brief summary.
There’s already been a great deal said singing the praises of the opening trilogy (quite rightly) so I won’t spend too much time rehashing it here. I’ve also harped on quite a lot about the qualities of Wolf of Ash and Fire (the novella prequel to the series) – again, if you’ve not reading it’s not for the want of me telling you to.
In spite of the perceived importance of the Heresy as 40ks ‘genesis story’, setting up the universe in which the game is set and the historical events that shaped it, the series remains founded in character driven – rather than world driven – storytelling. The divisions within the Mournival (the council of four Captains that forms the ‘conscience’ of Horus’s legion) providing a superb setting for revealing the wider divisions within the legion. Just as in reality this split is never as clear cut as idealists would like us to believe and so we are shown a full spectrum of loyalties, between Loken (utterly loyal to the Emperor and the original ideals of the Great Crusade) and Abaddon (equally loyal to his primarch). The key, of course, is that each is devoted, beyond all else, to his legion – yet each holds a very different idea of what the legion stands for.
Critics have also accused Horus of transforming from an all-round nice guy into a murderous maniac in the blink of an eye – and all because Erebus says “You can’t trust your dad. Looks, some notoriously untrustworthy daemons agree with me”. Leaving aside the fact that this “overnight transformation” actually takes the best part of three books, the accusation remains unfair. Throughout the books so far Horus is shown to be a passionate and mercurial character, both before and after his rebellion. When he decides he likes someone (for example when Loken joins the Mournival) he quickly takes them into his confidence. When he decided he does not like them their expulsion, isolation or death is similarly rapid. The peace talks with the interex and their subsequent collapse, demonstrate this perfectly – once Horus has decided that an individual or group are his enemies he does not hesitate to turn on them, regardless of their previous relationship. Thus Horus does not “suddenly become a villain”, rather he suddenly comes to see Loken and his comrades as his enemies and – having done so – is as ruthless in his campaign against them as he is against any other enemy.
Following on from this opening set is Flight of the Eisenstein, a book which to me suffers a little from being “the forth in the trilogy”. Overall though it’s a solid and enjoyable read (and could certainly teach Battle for the Abyss a trick or two, but I’ll come to that). My only real complaint is that of the four Isstvan III legions it’s the Death Guard we see the least of, and as a result know the least about. Flight of the Eisenstein should have been the book to set that right but in the end we get glimpses into the nature of the legion (the ritual consumption of poison for example) but never feel fully immersed. Using Garro as the leading character should have been perfect for this, in many ways he’s an outsider in his own legion, a Terran in an army now drawn from the strange, toxic world of Barbarus, a dinosaur who has lived to see the Dusk Raiders transformed and renamed by the arrival of the Death Lord Mortarion. Instead the book concentrates on setting up the future chapters of the Garro story (and the story of the Death Guard – the foreshadowing of Nurgle’s influence is excellent). In spite of this gripe I’m interested in exploring the further chapters of Garro’s story and discovering his eventual fate (many people seem to think he’ll become one of the first Grey Knights although I believe James Swallow has already said this won’t be the case. Frankly I’m inclined to think he’ll be reunited with his decomposing comrades in Papa Nurgle’s service, as suggested in The Lost and the Damned, but maybe that’s just the devilish cynic in me).
Fulgrim is a solid enough read, charting the tragic fall from grace of one of the Emperor’s most favoured sons. The deus ex machina element of Fulgrim’s decent into madness is arguably a little unnecessary as his own relentless drive to perfection in all things would have sent him and his legion into a downward spiral without any daemonic influence, although the hideous talking portrait of the primarch certainly makes for disturbing and well executed scenes. My main criticism is that there were rather a lot of characters from the Emperor’s Children, each going spectacularly batty in their own ways, and I struggled to keep track of which was which. Fewer characters, developed in greater depth, would have added to the impact of the inevitable tragedy. I would have liked to see more of Ferrus Manus, and the pre- Isstvan V Iron Hands as well, this being essentially our last chance to get to grips with one of the largest and most powerful legions of the Great Crusade.
Speaking of tragedies the Dropsite Massacre is portrayed as powerfully as ever and as a reader you find yourself begging characters from both sides of the conflict not to step into this bloody arena. Even more so than the betrayal at Isstvan III this is the abiding, heartbreaking calamity of the series, perhaps the crux moment of the 40k universe overall, and we are spared none of its impact.Descent of Angels is another cracker, seamlessly blending fantasy and sci-fi elements into a cohesive, fully-realised whole. Telling the story of the knights of Caliban prior to the arrival of the Emperor it serves as a valuable first chapter in the story of the Dark Angel’s legion. Of course, this being the Dark Angels, it leaves the reader with more questions than answers, but manages to do so in a way that keeps you gripped and guessing, rather than seeming smugly self-satisfied. If medieval knights in rudimentary power-armour fighting ecologically impossible beasts in a vast, improbably dark and dangerous forest doesn’t sound too contrived to you then I’d highly recommend this one.
The Dark King is a good read, especially for those like myself who’re fans of the Night Lords. However it’s The Lightning Tower that really shines here, an exceptional piece of character driven storytelling based around some remarkably simple props.
There’s not a lot I can tell you about Legion apart from “read it”. Read it, then burn it, then eat the ashes and await further instructions. I’m Alpharius.
On a side note, not about the book but about the Alpha Legion themselves, does anyone know why they brand the hydra mark onto their agents? For a legion which places such importance on secrecy and deception this seems rather counterproductive. If anyone knows the answer, or has a good idea, pop it in the comments box below.
Unfortunately Legion (one of the best of this opening set) is followed immediately by Battle for the Abyss (easily the worst by a considerable margin). This is especially unfortunate as the premise is excellent, the desperate pursuit of the vast traitor vessel through the troubled warp by a much smaller loyalist ship, whilst the disparate crew turn upon one another and daemonic entities sneak aboard and wreak havoc in the darkness (think Hunt for Red October meets Alien and you’ll have a good idea of what this book could so easily have been – that is to say; magnificent). There are plenty of moments where the tension could have been ratcheted up to breaking point (as storms threaten to swallow the plucky ship Wrathful and dead crewmen come crawling back to murderous life). All too often however these are skipped over in the space of a few sentences, or turn rapidly into fast-paced, low tension, shooting matches.
Fans of the English language should also avoid this book as the torrent of superfluous description and crudely assembled sentences kills any drama before it gets the chance to take root.
The cast of characters however is perhaps the most disappointing missed opportunity of all. Here was an opportunity to see the Heresy in microcosm, with legions from both sides of the divide crammed together to battle a common enemy in the cramped corridors of a single ship. This was a chance for the disparate characters of those legions to be explored to the full, with characters from the Ultramarines, Space Wolves, World Eaters and Thousand Sons uniting in the hunt for the Word Bearer vessel. None, however, are given the opportunity to fully develop. Take Skraal the World Eater for example. He’s a ruthless killer, a driven and unrelenting warrior with little time for doubts about the necessity of his actions. How does he feel then about threatening the success of his mission by getting distracted and slaughtering civilians in a blind rage? Surely even if he cares nothing at all for the loss of life a “living weapon” such as himself must suffer some self doubt about putting the mission in jeopardy? What about his erstwhile allies? How do they feel about having a representative of a shunned and feared legion in their midst? By this stage in the crusade rumours were already circulating widely that Angron’s entire legion were mad. Surely living in close proximity to Skraal can’t have done anything to alleviate such suspicions amongst the others. Having this savage psychopath on the side of the heroes should have opened up all kinds of moral complexities and quandaries, especially when compared to the “villains” – the bookish, scholarly Word Bearers (more on them in a moment). Instead we’re shown a character who gets angry a lot. And that’s it.
The rest of the cast come across equally poorly. The Ultramarines are wooden and generally indistinguishable (and their vaunted tactical genius comes down to “follow that ship!”). Brynngar the Space Wolf comes across as an idiot, a drunken bumbling fool who doesn’t give a damn about the deaths of his many faceless Bloodclaws (and if I read the word “feral” one more time I may end up as mad as Skraal). What a shame that the role of the Wolves as the Emperor’s headsmen is so utterly overlooked. The thought of fighting other space marines may be uncomfortable to most of the loyalist cast, but to Brynngar it might well be all too familiar. And what would have happened had Mhotep of the Thousand Sons received a message from his brothers, telling him what the Wolves had done on Propero in his absence?
Similarly it would have been interesting to see the shared history of the Word Bearers and Ultramarines incorporated further. It hardly seems radical to have made Cestus – the lead Ultramarine character – one of the warriors sent to destroy Monarchia when the Word Bearers were first shamed. Would he feel guilt now about having set them on their current path or would he feel validated by their betrayal?
And so it goes on, as the unique opportunity provided by this book to get under the skin of each of the represented legions fails to materialise. A special mention needs to be reserved for Kor Phaeron who comes across as the most determinedly clichéd villain imaginable. By the end I was honestly expecting him to announce his arrival at Calth by saying something like “No Mr Guilliman, I expect you to die” whilst gunning down henchmen for their perceived failures. Where is the bitter half-astartes who knows he has wasted his life in the service of a lie, the old man rebuilt to become the thing he most desired to be, yet never truly could – a space marine? Where is the iron willed warrior whose influence curbed Lorgar’s more mercurial elements?
I admit I only skim read the final few chapters as the only pleasure I was deriving from the book was trying to guess what clichéd thing the characters would say or do next (unfortunately, I was usually right – when a daemon addresses someone as “Puny human” before going on to exclaim that they cannot be defeated it’s never a good sign).
Anyway, next up its Mechanicum which, given that it features my favourite Imperial faction (the clue is in the title) and is written by Graham McNeill (who knows his way around a sentence like a fiend) should be a step back in the right direction.
As promised, here’s the summery:
Read ‘em now! – Horus Rising, False Gods, Galaxy in Flames, Descent of Angels, The Dark King/The Lightning Tower, Legion
Decent entertainment – Flight of the Eisenstein, Fulgrim,
Don’t bother. Really. Look up the synopsis online, then get on with better things – Battle for the Abyss.
So what did you think? Was the plot of Fulgrim as thin as his talking portrait? Did Battle for the Abyss keep you gripped until the very last page? Should Horus have told Erebus “I could read you like book” (yeah, that was a joke about his tattoos – suck it up!). If you have an opinion the comments box below is the place for you. Otherwise, consider this, the time you spent reading this you could have spent reading Wolf of Ash and Fire. So thanks, your decision to choose me over Graham McNeill means a lot.
All images copyright Games Workshop.